The CLTS Knowledge Hub has changed to The Sanitation Learning Hub and we have a new website https://sanitationlearninghub.org/. Please visit us here - it would be great to stay in contact.

The CLTS Knowledge Hub website is no longer being updated you can access timely, relevant and action-orientated sanitation and hygiene resources and information at the new site.

The CLTS approach

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What is CLTS?

What is CLTS?
Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) is an innovative methodology for mobilising communities to completely eliminate open defecation (OD). Communities are facilitated to conduct their own appraisal and analysis of open defecation (OD) and take their own action to become ODF (open defecation free).

At the heart of CLTS lies the recognition that merely providing toilets does not guarantee their use, nor result in improved sanitation and hygiene. Earlier approaches to sanitation prescribed high initial standards and offered subsidies as an incentive. But this often led to uneven adoption, problems with long-term sustainability and only partial use. It also created a culture of dependence on subsidies. Open defecation and the cycle of fecal–oral contamination continued to spread disease.

In contrast, CLTS focuses on the behavioural change needed to ensure real and sustainable improvements – investing in community mobilisation instead of hardware, and shifting the focus from toilet construction for individual households to the creation of open defecation-free villages, raising awareness that even if a minority of people continues to defecate in the open everyone is at risk of disease. CLTS uses participatory methodologies and processes, including community mapping and transect walks, to facilitate communities to analyse their own sanitation practices and faecal-oral pathways. During this process (called triggering) communities come to the realisation they are eating each other’s shit resulting in communities into taking action to become open defecation free (ODF). CLTS triggers the community’s desire for collective change, propels people into action and encourages innovation, mutual support and appropriate local solutions, thus leading to greater ownership and sustainability.

CLTS was pioneered by Kamal Kar (a development consultant from India) together with VERC (Village Education Resource Centre), a partner of WaterAid Bangladesh, in 2000 in Mosmoil, a village in the Rajshahi district of Bangladesh, whilst evaluating a traditionally subsidised sanitation programme. Kar, who had years of experience in participatory approaches in a range of development projects, succeeded in persuading the local NGO to stop top-down toilet construction through subsidy. He advocated change in institutional attitude and the need to draw on intense local mobilisation and facilitation to enable villagers to analyse their sanitation and waste situation and bring about collective decision-making to stop open defecation.

CLTS spread fast within Bangladesh where informal institutions and NGOs are key. Both Bangladeshi and international NGOs adopted the approach. The Water and Sanitation Programme (WSP) of the World Bank played an important role in enabling spread to neighbouring India and then subsequently to Indonesia and parts of Africa. Over time, many other organisations have become important disseminators and champions of CLTS, amongst them Plan International, UNICEF, WaterAid, SNV, WSSCC, Tearfund, Care, WSP, World Vision and others. Today CLTS is in more than 60 countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Pacific and the Middle East, and governments are increasingly taking the lead in scaling up CLTS. Many governments have also adopted CLTS as national policy.

After initially being conceived as an approach for rural sanitation only, there have been a variety of adaptation, for example in urban and peri-urban settings, in schools and in post emergency and fragile state contexts.

CLTS and the changing landscape of rural WASH

The WASH landscape has been changing subtly but noticeably over the last few years. CLTS has proved most effective to date in tackling the sanitation challenge at scale, becoming more and more accepted, integrated into national policies, and used in a wide variety of contexts by a multitude of actors. However, the last few years have challenged the sector to look beyond the ambitions of the MDGs and examine who is not being reached by efforts to increase access to sanitation.

Coinciding with or perhaps being instigated by the SDG’s focus on universal coverage and reaching the poorest and most vulnerable, the complexity of the challenges facing the WASH sector and with it, CLTS, have become clear. For example, as no subsidies are offered with CLTS it has been thought of as a cheap approach, however in practice it requires substantial investment in staff. The approach is human resource heavy and requires frequent time spent in the field including for pre-triggering, triggering, post-triggering and post-ODF activities. CLTS has been found to be most effective in villages that are small, remote, cohesive and have strong local leadership.

The WASH sector is recognising the need to become more diverse and cross-cutting in response to this complexity, with general acceptance of the need for a menu of different approaches that can either be integrated with one another or used in isolation. More and more, programmes and professionals are moving towards not being proponents of one approach over the other, but are instead arguing for the need to look closely at the context and situation to inform decisions about what approach, or cocktail of approaches and interventions, to use.

The CLTS Knowledge Hub’s evolution into the Sanitation Learning Hub

The past 10 years have shown us that nuanced, tailored and adaptive approaches are essential to successfully support everyone, everywhere claim their right to safely managed sanitation. National and sub-national contexts shift and vary, and societies comprise diverse individuals and households with different needs, capacities and priorities. Experience has shown that just using a single, static approach at scale over long periods (for example, only using CLTS) does not always work: they do not reach everyone and often struggle to achieve sustainability and movement up the sanitation ladder.

To enable programmes to be designed to reach and meet the needs of everyone across entire areas, a thorough understanding of the context(s) is essential. Using an approach such as context analyses enables teams to select appropriate implementation approaches and partners - it is likely that multiple approaches and partners will be required in any one area, and that these will need to be adapted and combined in different ways.

This evidence-based approach will also help identify communities and individuals at risk of being left behind. We have much to learn about how best to do this and programmes must remain flexible so that they can be adapted based on monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) as well as changing contexts.

Building strong MEL systems and rapid action learning (RAL) processes into programmes will support this process, helping to identify what works and what does not throughout every stage of the programme, and enabling adaptation and course correction. Investing in staff and institutional capacity to pivot, adapt and work with multiple approaches and partners is also key.

Started in 2006, the CLTS Knowledge Hub primarily focused on facilitating learning and sharing on the CLTS approach across the sector. However, in response to the increasingly complex WASH landscape, we realised we needed a broader, more flexible approach to learning within the sector that could better adapt to meet this complexity.
In January 2019, after a period of consultation with critical friends and peers in the sector, we decided on a strategy which set out our commitment to context specific and adaptive learning. The decision was made to commit to the shift with a new name, ‘The Sanitation Learning Hub’, with a new brand, and a new website.

Our learning on CLTS and other community-led approaches has been crystalised on our new site.

Here are our current recommended resources on community-led approaches for S&H:

Adapting community-led approaches – tell us your experiences!
We are always keen to learn more. Tell us about your experiences of adapting and tailoring CLTS or other community-led approaches. You can send your thoughts and resources to us at SLH@ids.ac.uk